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Rico Walcott, who has dominated the Alberta riding scene like few before, is headed to Toronto to ride at Woodbine. The question isn’t why the transcendent jockey is going, but what took him so long.
“I took a long time. A lot of my friends have been telling me to go for years,” said Walcott, 33. “I probably should have tried Toronto several years ago. But I’ve finally decided to give it a shot,” whose immigration status only covered Western Canada or races where Western Canadian owners had a horse entered.
It wasn’t just Walcott’s friends pleading with him to try to try a much bigger stage. Robertino Diodoro, who has horses all over the planet, said he has been trying to get Walcott to move to some of the places he trains for a long time.
“I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t successful,” said Diodoro, who is burning it up at Oaklawn Park where he leads the trainer standings with 38 wins from 146 starts. “I just wish he would have done it earlier. We asked him 100 times to come to Oaklawn. I think he will do very well. He has all the tools. He has so much talent. And, he is very personable.”
Walcott’s absence from the Alberta will be missed. “He’s been the face of the Alberta jockey room for a long time. He’s the last one left from the good old days,” said Diodoro. “He’ll leave a huge hole in Alberta.”
Arriving in Alberta from Barbados in 2007 when he joined his older brother Rickey, Rico Walcott was Alberta’s leading rider every year from 2011 to 2018 until he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in the spring of 2019. Following successful surgery, Walcott took off again when he returned the following year winning the jockey titles in 2020 and 2021.
“I feel like I can ride with anyone. For sure,” he said without sounding the least bit boastful. But sometimes you need a little horse,” he said with a laugh.
All told he has won 1,524 races for purse earnings just under $20 million. Moreover he has won at an astonishing rate of 24 per cent. Four times - in 2013, 2014 2015 and 2017 - he won at a riveting clip of more than 30 per cent.
“I’ll do my best in Toronto. I’ll work hard,” said Walcott, a very private individual that has done exactly that every time he climbed into the saddle.
‘I ride hard all the time. I give my all in every race. I just want to win. I don’t know any differently,” said Walcott, who has magical hands.
“He rides the cheap horses as hard as he rides the ones in stakes races,” said Alberta trainer Rod Cone, who has won four Canadian Derbies. “I know he’s won races for me I never expected to win. He never looks at the odds board and thinks ‘This horse is 20-1 and has no shot.' He has a positive attitude every time he climbs on. I'd ride him on every horse I run if I could get him.”
“Who wouldn’t? I’ve always said I'm sure he could go anywhere he wants to go to ride and win races. I don’t think Toronto will be any different. He’ll be just fine. He’ll do well. He’ll fit right in. He’s as good a rider as there is in Canada in my opinion.”
Quiet, humble and calm, Walcott won five Canadian Derbies - Alberta’s richest stakes race. He won with No Hesitation in 2010, the magnificent Broadway Empire in 2013, Edison in 2010, Sky Promise in 2018 - the last Derby at Northlands Park - and Great Escape last year.
He also rode Broadway Empire to victory in the 2013 Oklahoma Derby and Alert Bay in the Zia Park Derby the following year. Broadway Empire and Blue Dancer also ran in the Breeders’ Cup races.
“I’ve never seen him so happy after a race as he was after last year’s Canadian Derby with Great Escape,” said his longtime agent Bob Fowlis. “He really wanted to win a Derby at Century Mile,” he said of the track which opened in 2019.
Walcott said he is going to miss Alberta. “Everyone treated me so well,” said Walcott, who will be moving his family - his wife, Shakera, 13-year-old daughter Sundai, and his three-month old daughter Wisdom - to Toronto.
“The trainers. The owners. And all the fans. I especially have to thank Bob Fowlis, my agent. “He’s the best. He was by my side all the time. He helped me out a lot, man. I’ll miss him.”
Walcott’s agent in Toronto will be Anthony Esposito, who is also the agent for Rafael Hernandez, who was Woodbine’s leading jockey in 2020 and who finished second in the jockey standings last year.
“I’ve never met Anthony in person. When I get to Toronto at the end of the month it will be the first time. He contacted me and we spoke over the phone several times,” said Walcott.
“He’ll do his part and I’ll do my part. I’m not nervous. I’m excited. And I’ll know a lot of the other riders. There are lots of jockeys from Barbados there,” said Walcott of jockeys like Patrick Husbands, who was voted the Sovereign Award for Outstanding Jockey, a then-unprecedented four straight years between 1999 and 2002.
“I just hope I get a fair amount of good horses to ride,” said Walcott. The betting says a resounding yes.
Walcott will leave for Toronto at the end of the month and begin galloping hoses in the mornings prior to Woodbine’s opening on April 22.
“Rico was like my own son for a long time. He’s a great rider,” said Fowlis, who first took Walcott’s book in 2012.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of great riders. Rico, Rickey and Quincy Welch, who was also a leading rider in Alberta and won just under 2,000 races, were all from Barbados. They were three of top five jockeys to ever ride in Alberta in my opinion. It’s also my opinion that Ron Hansen was the best of the all.”
“Rico is just so talented. It’s amazing how much he gets out of horses. He’s really strong and like any good jockey sits a horse well. I wish him nothing but the best. I hope everything works out good in Toronto and with his health.”
Fowlis said one amazing stat is that Walcott won 28 stakes at B.C.’s Hastings Park from just 95 mounts. Three of them came in the B.C. Derby. “That’s unbelievable.”
But then so is Walcott.
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